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North Bay Business Journal

Monday, May 12, 2014, 5:30 am

Seeking a more pragmatic state government

By John Lowry

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    I am a candidate for the California Assembly in the North Coast 2nd District.  I’ve had a 28-year career, with 15 years as executive director at Burbank Housing, a successful nonprofit housing development and property management company.  Burbank has a staff of 140 people; it has developed 3,500 homes and apartments, and it has brought hundreds of millions of dollars into the community that resulted in housing, jobs and economic development.  I’ve had the experience of running a private company with a public purpose.

    I am a Democrat, and I see a positive role for government in providing essential services and expanding opportunity.  To do this successfully, government needs to support a strong economy, and it must create an environment for business success.  

    Currently, public policy is a confusing mixed bag of rhetorical support for a strong economy combined with a burdensome approach to environmental protection and, too often, an assumption of conflict between business and government.  It is true that businesses, particularly large impersonal ones, can be bad actors.  Regulation of some kind is a proper role of government, but government needs to remain aware that providing for business success is an important element in its own responsibility to provide for the general welfare.

    Environmental policy provides an example of how the business/government relationship needs to change.  Current policy reacts to any proposed change rather than advancing a coherent plan for preservation and restoration.  Those opposing change are given powerful tools to resist it, even if the change involves important public priorities including jobs, roads, parks, airports, housing, and even renewable energy.

    The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) demonstrates this approach.  The act was passed when Ronald Reagan was governor, and called for an assessment of the environmental impacts of public works projects.  The courts decided that anything that needed a building permit was a public project, and a series of additional judicial decisions and legislative acts turned it into what we have today.  Any attempts to limit its scope, more tightly define the nature of environmental issues, or create a more level playing field between plaintiffs and defendants is met with charges of “gutting our environmental protection.”  Actually, changes are needed to encourage more systematic and effective environmental policies and to eliminate abuse.

    Current environmental policies have added significantly to the costs of housing, which continue to rise faster than incomes.  Deteriorating housing affordability makes finding a decent place to live increasingly difficult for lower-income working people and prevents many low-and moderate-income families from owning a home.  This loss of opportunity is very distressing, and the problem doesn’t stop there.  Higher housing costs mean that local business needs to pay more to attract and keep skilled people in comparison to many other areas around the country.   

    Many business people have become increasingly concerned with the obligations being accumulated by our public pension system, and see the need for meaningful pension reform.  I supported the initiative proposed by San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed that would have allowed for the reduction of guaranteed benefits related to future work.  It’s an entirely reasonable proposal, and we may have a chance to adopt it in 2016.  I am the only Democrat in this race who has taken this position and who is willing to speak candidly about the pension issue.

    Taxes are an issue that has traditionally divided Democrats and Republicans.  While disagreements will persist, we can discuss revenue and spending choices in a less partisan and more informed manner.  We should evaluate tax and spending policies on the basis of how they affect economic vitality and the delivery of vital public services, as well as on the trade-offs implied for various taxpayers.  Additionally, we need to see impact fees, unfunded mandates, and regulatory exactions as important considerations when we try to evaluate the economic effects of taxation.

    I am the candidate who is willing to talk about these issues and who is prepared to focus on them if elected.  I decided to enter this race because of the new top two primary, which was intended to encourage independent candidates and give them a chance of winning.  But winning will require support from those who understand the need for a more pragmatic agenda, and I ask for your support.

    John Lowry can be reached at johnlowryca@gmail.com or 707 541-2344.  His cell phone is 707 529-6521, and his website is at www.johnlowryassembly.com.

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